President Donald Trump demonstrated his contempt for the law in naming North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. But he only followed precedent. The designation is a matter of politics, not policy.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is an awful regime. But it has not engaged in terrorism for years.
Advocates of tagging the DPRK as a terrorist state cite a long list of misdeeds, including “duplicity in its negotiations with the United States” and defiance of “the international community.” If duplicity and defiance justified a designation as a terrorist sponsor, every government, including Washington, would be in the dock.
There also was North Korea’s 2014 hack of Sony Pictures, which was odious, but not terrorism. (Under that standard Washington’s apparent use of computer viruses against the Iranian nuclear and North Korean missile programs would constitute … terrorism.)
President Trump cited the murder of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. It almost certainly was carried out on Kim’s orders. But that was an individual assassination, for very practical political ends.
The president also pointed to the death of American college student Otto Warmbier. He deserved far better, but neither his doctors nor the coroner found evidence of torture, and even torture – employed by a number of America’s allies, including Egypt and Turkey – is not terrorism.
Indeed, the terrorism designation long ago lost all meaning. Cuba was on the list until President Barack Obama removed it; Cuban-Americans were more likely to use terrorism against Havana than the Cuban government was to use terrorism against America.
Sudan is on the list even though its involvement in terrorism is decades old. Indeed, Washington officials admit that Khartoum has been helpful in fighting Islamic radicals and in January dropped other, longstanding economic sanctions.
Syria and Iran also are on the list. Both have been bad actors – along with plenty of other nations in the Middle East and elsewhere. But neither Damascus nor Tehran underwrites terrorism as commonly understood.
Washington even complains of Iran’s support for Yemeni Houthis, involved in a civil war in which the U.S. has aided intervention by Saudi Arabia and UAE, which has killed thousands of civilians. By this standard, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump should be in the dock for their aid for Saudi “terrorism.”
The DPRK was delisted in 2008 by the Bush administration,…